Judge dismisses Trump's second attempt to block criminal investigation into his business dealings

Trump legal team's position is 'perilous to the rule of law' in the US, judge writes

Griffin Connolly
Washington
Thursday 20 August 2020 16:10
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Trump claims bank fraud investigation is 'continuation of witch hunt'

A federal judge has dismissed Donald Trump's second attempt to block a criminal investigation into him by Manhattan prosecutor Cyrus Vance, who is seeking to subpoena eight years of the president's tax filings.

"Under their theory of temporary absolute immunity, even if the President (presumably any president) while in office were to shoot a person in the middle of New York's Fifth Avenue, he or she would be shielded from law enforcement investigations and judicial proceedings of any kind, federal or state, until the expiration of the President's term," the federal judge wrote, denying the president's lawsuit motioning to end Mr Vance's investigation.

That legal theory is "as unprecedented and far-reaching as it is perilous to the rule of law and other bedrock constitutional principles on which this country was founded and by which it continues to be governed," the judge wrote.

The president's legal defence team has appealed the ruling.

In 2019, Mr Vance's office subpoenaed the Mr Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, for eight years of personal and business tax filings — which the president has refused to make public — following a criminal investigation into “hush money” payments arranged by the president’s former attorney, Michael Cohen.

Those alleged hush payments were an attempt to quash accusations from adult film star Stormy Daniels that she had had an affair with Mr Trump years earlier.

Mr Vance wrote in a court filing earlier this month that his office was investigating the president for "alleged bank and insurance fraud," accusations Mr Trump has dismissed as "just a continuation of the witch hunt" against him.

"They failed with Mueller, they failed with everything. They failed with Congress. They failed at every stage of the game," Mr Trump said at a press conference earlier this month.

"This has been going on for three and a half, four years, even before I got in," he said.

Mr Vance's investigative impetus rests largely on public media reports about Mr Trump's business dealings.

His district court filings point to ”undisputed” news reports about the president’s businesses and his wealth that would justify a legal basis for a subpoena to probe those records. The Manhattan DA's office did not identify the explicit focus of its investigation.

Mr Trump has spent nearly his entirely presidency fending off accusations of corruption, including campaign finance crimes, financial crime and ethical mismanagement related to his business empire, and ties between his campaign and Russia, to name just a few.

Mr Cohen, who is roughly halfway through a prison sentence after pleading guilty to lying to Congress about an ultimately unsuccessful bid to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in 2016, has accused Mr Trump under congressional oath of inflating the value of his various properties in business negotiations, only to deflate them on his tax returns.

“It was my experience that Mr Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes,” Mr Cohen told the House Oversight Committee last year.

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